Blizzard Nearly Brings Seacoast to Halt

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Portsmouth Herald, Tuesday, February 7. 1978

[The following article is courtesy of the Portsmouth Herald and Seacoast Online.]

See a photo gallery of the storm

A howling northeast storm blitzed the Seacoast Tuesday, burying the area in well over a foot of snow and bringing life in the Portsmouth area virtually to a standstill.

Streets were almost deserted during the normally busy commuter hours with most businesses and all schools closed for the day.

Abnormally high tides threatened beach and waterfront areas. People were evacuated from homes at Hampton Beach Monday night and York police reported that stretches of Route lA were under water.

Emergency personnel were alerted to expect a tide of three to four feet above normal by late morning. National Guard units were placed on alert for possible evacuations.

"It's going to be a doozy," said a spokesman at the Portsmouth Harbor Coast Guard station, which moved two of its smaller boats to the Navy Yard because rough seas were threatening to damage them in the station's boathouse.

This morning, Gov. Meldrim Thomson Jr. was enroute from The Balsams to Concord, where he planned to confer with Highway Department Commissioner John Clement and DRED Commissioner George Gilman.

Then, the three were planning a journey to the Seacoast Area to view damage.

"Peter Thomson, the governor's chief of staff, said the party should be in the Seacoast about 1 p.m.

At that time, the governor was to make a decision on whether to declare an emergency in the Seacoast, and perhaps the whole state.

In Portsmouth, City Marshal Stanton G. Remick invoked emergency powers until further notice and said parking by any vehicles on any city streets is prohibited. Anyone disobeying, risks an appearance in District Court and the towing of his vehicle.

Several auto firms and individual owners volunteered the use of four-wheel drive vehicles, offers that the police gladly accepted because cruisers found the going hard last night and most broke down.

The utility vehicles transported nurses to the Portsmouth Hospital, and police also carried nurses to duty at Edgewood Manor nursing home.

A Pease AFB sergeant, Charles Wiley, offered the police use of his snowmobile.

"We're dealing with a major snowstorm," said Marshal Remick in announcing emergency powers were in force, "It's imperative that vehicles are removed from the streets to enable the highway department to plow the streets for the use of emergency vehicles

"Except for emergencies the motoring public should stay off the streets," he emphasized.

A few cars were towed during the night, the police reporting that one of their main problems was helping plows keep clear of parked vehicles.

Several court sessions in the area, including Portsmouth, and Kittery, were canceled, but Exeter District Court was scheduled to be held as usual tonight.

Snow, whipped by savage gusts, was continuing to fall on the area as the storm passed over. One snowdrift almost seven feet high was seen outside the Penhallow Street entrance to the Portsmouth federal building.

City Hall was closed but custodian Joseph "Pete" Letourneau and his crew of CETA and welfare workers was "on standby" and ready to go anywhere in the city if needed.

For the first time in many years, a session of the City Council was postponed Monday night and the agenda will be taken up next Monday. Kittery Council's meeting was also called off.

Portsmouth City Yard crews, plus hired equipment, mobilized about 9 p.m. and found the biggest problem was coping with the winds and huge drifts.

Extra plows and loaders were laid on, but even so it was a case of concentrating on keeping main thoroughfares open and some side roads had to wait.

One driver who came in off 195 described conditions as being "a whiteout." Someone who visited downtown Portsmouth called it a "ghostly white way", with all storefronts dark and gloomy.

One person was walking the streets with a small snowblower, to no apparent purpose. Some students, making the most of the day off, were armed with shovels looking for work.

The runway at Pease AFB was being plowed but no flying was really expected. All non-alert FB-111As were moved into the hangars while the heavier KC-135 tankers remained on the ramp.

Few accidents were reported on the roads. A Maine State police spokesman said people seemed to be heeding warnings to stay off the highways. "There has been less of a problem than with normal storms," he said.

New Hampshire troopers were checking the highways for abandoned vehicles. Kittery police said a trailer truck, apparently suffering a mechanical breakdown, was stuck on the high level bridge.

Unlike Boston, the Seacoast escaped widespread electrical breakdowns but Public Service Co. spokesman Richard Caverly said between 150 and 200 people lost their power in the Rye Harbor area last night. The outage, caused by a broken wire, lasted about two hours.

The only other outage reported was in Dover, where an area including the post office and the Waldron Towers housing for the elderly were blacked out.

The area is serviced by underground lines but apparently snow got into some connections.

Exeter police reported a lot of stranded motorists in the area. Local firemen went to the Wise Shoe Co., 156 Front St., where the sprinkler system had let go, probably triggered by the storm.

A fire was reported in a trailer on Martin Road in Kittery at the height of the storm. The occupants weren't immediately identified.

High winds snapped power lines in Hampton and Seabrook beach areas but an Exeter-Hampton Electric Co. spokesman was unable to say how many customers were affected. Service in other parts of the company's area was uninterrupted.

A 36-year-old fire official in Durham took a dim view of the excitement the storm was generating. "It's no big deal," he said, "Everyone is blowing everything out of proportion. The younger generation just can't take it."

Police were keeping an eye on Cedar Point, a low-lying area jutting into Little Bay, in case of flooding.

A UNH spokesman said he didn't know of any problem on campus — but agreed that he hadn't seen anyone on the campus since it closed.

Across the state, police chiefs were concerned about highway problems caused by abandoned vehicles. The Associated Press quoted a Nashua police spokesman as calling the situation "terrible."

"Anyone who can't get up the hills just leaves his car by the side of the road," the official said.

The Keene police chief said vehicles just weren't able to go fast enough to cause accidents. He said plowing was "a losing battle because the snow is blowing back on the road as fast as it's plowed."

Volunteering four-wheel drive vehicles to Portsmouth police during the night were Reed Oldsmobile, Brady Ford, Portsmouth Dodge and Edwards Toyota, also Edgar Wiseman of Decatur Road.

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